Friday, August 31, 2012

West Houston RWA Contest Now Open

Looking to test drive a new writing project? West Houston Romance Writers of America's Emily contest is one of the best, with great feedback, top-tier finals judges (editors and agents) and many, many finalists going on to sell over the years.

Also, the contest is open to both published and unpublished writers. (Published authors eligible in categories in which they haven't previously published or haven't published within the last five years.)

Check the website via the links below for more details. Here's the official release:

The 2013 Emily Contest opens for submissions this Saturday, September 1st, 2012 and closes at midnight, September 30, 2012.

For more information and to enter:

* All Electronic ~ Fee: $30 (WHRWA members $20) * No synopsis ~ maximum of 7,000 words * Three first-round judges ~ lowest score dropped * Open to published authors (not published in category for three years) * Multiple entries allowed * Entries capped at the first 240 entries received

Final Round Judges: Contemporary Single Title: * Agent ~ Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management * Editor ~ Katherine Pelz, The Berkley Publishing Group

Contemporary Series: * Agent ~ Scott Eagan, Greyhaus Literary Agency * Editor ~ Susan Litman, Harlequin Enterprises

Erotic Romance: * Agent ~ Roberta Brown, Brown Literary Agency * Editor ~ Chelsey Emmelhainz, Editorial Asst. Avon Harper Collins

Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal: * Agent ~ Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency * Editor ~ Jennifer Lawler, Crimson Romance /Adams Media

Historical: * Agent ~ Jessica Alvarez, Bookends, LLC * Editor ~ Leah Hultenschmidt, Sourcebooks

Novel with Elements of Romance (including Women's Fiction): * Agent ~ Suzie Townsend, Nancy Coffee Literary & Media Rep * Editor ~ Deb Werksman, Sourcebooks

Romantic Suspense: * Agent ~ Karen Solem, Spencerhill Literary * Editor ~ Patience Bloom, Harlequin Enterprises

Young Adult: * Agent ~ Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, Larsen Pomoda Literary Agents * Editor ~ Aubrey Poole, Associate Editor, Sourcebooks

Best of the Best: * Overall contest winner receives a cash prize of $100

* Judge ~ Karla Hodde, Katy Budget Books

Questions? Email:


Jo Anne Banker

Emily Contest Co-Chair

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

100% of August royalties for HURRICANE LOVER will go to Red Cross

This seriously blows! On the anniversary of Katrina, New Orleans citizens are evacuating as Isaac roars into the Gulf.

I'm giving 100% of my August royalties for The Hurricane Lover to the American Red Cross. Please help me spread the word on Facebook and twitter.

The Hurricane Lover was inspired by my experiences volunteering with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. I also witnessed the amazing work of the Red Cross after Hurricanes Rita and Ike here in Houston. (Hey, that's life here on the Gulf Coast.)

While I was doing research for The Hurricane Lover, I became fascinated with the science behind these megastorms, and there's a lot of that in the book, but my real goal (beyond telling a good story) was to put human faces - the faces of lovers, parents, families, communities - on the Weather Channel forecasts and disaster updates.

A lot of story elements, including this heart-wrenching moment, are based on stories I heard from Katrina survivors in long FEMA lines outside the Reliant Center in Houston. When Hurricane Ike hit Houston, it was an incredible opportunity for me to actually go out and experience the sound and smell of hurricane force winds. This book was a soul project for me on so many levels. I would love to see it do some good and give a little back to my neighbors on the Gulf Coast.

Thanks for helping me spread the word.

Here's a link to The Hurricane Lover on Amazon.

Here's a link to it on Barnes & Noble.

And here's a link to make a donation directly to the Red Cross.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sylvia Plath reads "Lady Lazarus"

The Real Rules (*Cough, Cough*) of Writing

Some authors, editors, and instructors are fond of laying down rules for writing, absolutes that You. Must. Always. Obey. As if they're speaking from on high (Mount Olympus, maybe?) and you, the groveling peon, should tremble before their pronouncements. Or maybe they're only trying to be helpful, sharing what they've been told, or what's worked for them.

Here are a few I've heard over the years:

1. Never start a story with the weather. This one's nicely exploded by author/editor Roz Morris at her blog, Nail Your Novel.)

2. Never include more than one point of view per scene, and limit these viewpoints to a very few main characters. Funny, how often and successfully this constraint is ignored by many, many authors, including New York Times bestseller (many times over) Nora Roberts, who's been known to sneak in a dog's point of view when it suits her. In my own romantic thriller, Beneath Bone Lake, I wrote one scene from an alligator's POV, and I've occasionally written omniscient scenes along with those where the only human witness is a corpse washing downstream.

3. Never use a sports star or a redheaded man as a romantic hero, and whatever you do, don't have an adulterous hero or heroine. Apparently, (and fortunately) someone forgot to tell Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Nobody's Baby But Mine) and Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) about these restrictions.

4. Never, ever write about a character's dreams. While I agree that this is overdone (especially by beginners) and mostly cringe-worthy, I would never say never.

There are many more "rules" I've heard at conferences and the few creative writing classes that I've taken. But personally, I believe there are only two worthy of your consideration.

1. It has to work. Whatever technique, device, or other choice you make has to result in a reader becoming completely immersed in the story and its characters. Not wrapped up in/distracted by your brilliant wordplay or rule-breaking and not rolling her eyes and groaning, either!

2. Your protagonist's situation must go from bad to worse--at least until the final crisis is met and he/she is allowed to smoke a cigarette, hook up with the love interest, grieve his/her losses or what have you in the denouement.

So what about you? Can you think of any hard and fast writing rules you've been taught that haven't turned out to be so hard and fast after all? Or can you think of any additions (or exceptions) to my two "real" rules for writing?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Translation Fun: Capturing the Commando

Few things are as much fun as receiving a copy of a book with your name and artwork on the cover in an unrecognizable language. After a bit of sleuthing, I figured out that this is the Icelandic translation of my May 2011 release, Capturing the Commando. It's my first translated edition for Harlequin and my first even Icelandic edition. So I thought it would be fun to share! Sorry for the poor scan. My scanner's on its last legs.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Crafting the Relatable Protagonist

No matter which genre of novel you're writing, the author has a couple of immediate imperatives: to create a relatable character and toss him or her into a situation you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Today, I'm going to talk about the relatable protagonist.

Creating a relatable character doesn't necessarily involve creating a likable character, just one with whom the reader can emotionally connect with and admire on some level. In the 2002 comedy About Schmidt, Warren Schmidt (played by the incomparable Jack Nicholson), is the ultimate in non-Save the Cat anti-heroes. I mean, the guy tosses a cute (but annoying) little dog down the garbage chute in the opening scene, for heaven's sake, and he says exactly what's on his mind, no matter how offensive and non-PC. Still, he's relatable because A. he's hilariously curmudgeonly, B. we've all had moments where we wish we had the guts to do or say exactly whatever outrageous thing was ripping through our brain--with no thought to the consequences, C. his act is so outrageously unexpected, it takes viewers by surprise, causing them to react with laughter before their guilt can kick in.

Especially in genre novels, however, likability is important. Readers won't often root for a character who's not worthy of love as the protagonist in a romance, and they won't much care whether or not the killer offs this person, either. So how can you make sure your protagonist has the audience cheering for him or her?

One way is to imbue the character with some extraordinary quality. In the case of Schmidt, he's extraordinarily blunt and witty, enough so that even though he's a horrible jerk at the film's outset, we admire and enjoy him on some level nonetheless. Funny viewpoint characters, such as Stephanie Plum from Janet Evanovich's One for the Money series, are so entertaining we'd follow them anywhere, just as we would those characters with a unique and fascinating worldview, i.e. the 15 year-old autistic savant hero of Mark Haddon's brilliant debut, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

Another method is in creating the "everyman" or "everywoman" character, who's muddling through life the same as we are when an extraordinary event forces him/her to dig deep and bring out the essential strength, intelligence, and/or (especially) courage that we're all secretly convinced we possess. This type of characterization is especially effective in suspense, such as in the opening paragraphs from my own upcoming romantic suspense novel, Relentless Protector (Harlequin Intrigue, September 2012), below:

Lisa Meador was running late again, ridiculously late thanks to the passive-aggressive front office manager, who had scheduled her for yet another dental cleaning way too close to school dismissal. Still in her scrubs following her long afternoon, she was wound up in knots and already thinking about her next errand when she swung into what ought to be the line of parents waiting in cars at her son's elementary school.

Except there was no line. She was the last and only car. The last parent, picking up the last and tiniest of students, who stood with an impatient-looking teacher in attendance.

I'm so sorry, Lisa mouthed before her older-model silver Camry slowed to a complete stop. But the knot of tension in her stomach loosened as five-year-old Tyler came dashing toward the car, his huge smile seeming to run ahead of him.

It was the smile Lisa lived for, the one thing that had kept her breathing, putting one foot before the other, in the thirteen months since her husband, Devin, had been killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

Only twenty-eight when she was widowed, Lisa was determined not to dwell on the unfairness of her loss. Instead, she focused on the five good years she and Devin had had together and the tawny-haired boy whose antics kept her scrambling to keep up.

Several elements have us rooting for this overwhelmed young mother pages before the carjacking and kidnapping destined to change her life forever. Let's look at a few.

1. Everyone who's ever been in the workplace can relate to a boss or other co-worker in authority (Lisa's office manager) who either deliberately or indifferently interferes with one's personal life.

2. Every parent alive has felt guilty, inadequate, and stressed-out at times. For Lisa, this is accentuated, as she's a recently-widowed, working mother of a kindergartner.

3. People often feel harried when they're running late, and their minds are full of the list of errands to be completed. It's easy--and scary--to imagine evil slipping in at a distracted moment like this.

4. Lisa's not a superhero. She's the kind of person you might know or meet any day of the week. It's fun to watch such a person's transformation, and gives us faith that we could fight as fiercely to protect a family member, especially one as vulnerable as a cute five-year-old boy.

These are just a few ways to make a character relatable. Can you add some favorite examples of your own?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reading on a Micro-Level and Doing It Well: An Interview With Benjamin LeRoy, the owner of Tyrus Books

This summer, I taught a crime fiction course in the prison.  When doing my research for the class, I came across Benjamin LeRoy, owner and editor at Tyrus Books, a small publishing house that specializes in books that "explore the human condition--especially the survival of regular folks--when faced with tragedy."  I thought this sensibility would resonate a lot with my students, and, coincidentally, I realized that Tyrus had just published Sweet Land of Bigamy, by Miah Arnold, a friend of mine from the University of Houston, so I emailed Ben to see if he'd do an interview for my students and for this blog.  He graciously agreed--and this guy is crazy busy--so I was very happy.  In a few days, I'll do a follow up interview with Miah about Sweet Land of Bigamy, and we'll continue to explore how the genre of crime fiction is changing and the ways in which literary and crime fiction intersect.

In my class at the prison this summer, we talked about how crime fiction has evolved as a genre over the last 150+ years, and in particular how authors are pushing the boundaries of the genre.  Where do you see crime fiction going, and how do you think social media and e-publishing are going to help shape or reshape the genre?

One of the benefits around the emergence of e-publishing is that authors aren’t beholden to writing to what Big Publishing thinks will sell. People can take chances and still see the light of day. It is, of course, no guarantee of sales, but it can be brought to the market. I won’t be surprised to see books with non-traditional backgrounds selling well. On the flipside of that, I worry that everybody who ever saw an episode of NYPD Blue and felt like he wanted to be a writer will write rehashed episodes of NYPD Blue (changing character names as needed). It’s a double-edged sword. The market’s gates are wide open, and like any human endeavor, some good will show up, and some bad will, too.

Crime fiction has often been relegated to “genre fiction” status as though that were some badge of shame. The perception was that crime fiction meant hard drinking detectives, leggy women, and the other tropes from old dime store paperbacks. But at the heart of much crime fiction are matters of life and death treated with and written at the same quality of the more prestigious “literary fiction.” Some of our most respected authors are working in the crime fiction arena, and I’d like to see that trend expand.

On your submissions page, you mention that you're more interested in the guy driving the car in the car chase than in the car chase itself.  Can you elaborate on this?  And what do you think writers risk when they lean too heavily on action?

I’ve seen enough car chases. Either the driver gets where he’s going or he doesn’t. All of the fancy camera tricks and near misses, though momentarily titillating, are all repeats of things we’ve seen before.  But the capacity for individuals to be different is limitless and I’m always intrigued to see where the author goes in developing characters.

In a recent online interview, you mention that you were pretty late into the production of Scott O'Connor's Untouchable before you realized that there was "no mystery there," but yet you said that it was the most Noir thing you'd seen in a while.  You also mentioned the importance of language in works that are Noir.  I know Noir is really hard to define, but what are some of the characteristics that you see in a work that you might characterize that way?  And why do you think a book like Untouchable is still able to fit into that category?

I hate answering this question for two reasons. (1) Everybody is an expert when it comes to defining things like noir or hardboiled, and no matter how you define it, it gets controversial (2) I can only really define noir by pointing to it. It’s a classic case of “knowing it when I see it.”

That said, for me when something is noir I know that the goal of the protagonist is to simply survive. He will be kicked. He will be cut. He will be scarred. And the question of whether or not he stands up to answer the bell is not obvious like in action movies where the good guy always wins. The late Southern author Harry Crews was quoted as saying “Survival is triumph enough.” I believe that is the driving force between a real noir story.

Bonus question:  What are some current trends you're seeing in crime fiction publishing these days?  What trends do you find most exciting?  Which do you find the most disturbing?

I’m woefully out of the loop when it comes to trends.  I run across a lot of serial killers and CSI types, but I don’t know if those would be considered trends. For the most part, I just do what I do, and I don’t really see the big picture of the industry. I’m reading on a micro-level, each book standing on its own. I’ve never tried to keep up with what others were doing. What I find most disturbing about trends or the ideas of trends is the derivative nature of the works produced—an author has an opportunity to do something original every time out. I hate to see an opportunity squandered.

Go with God, Phyllis Diller

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I'm in with the IN crowd

Except, I'm not really. I just like the song. Roxy Music is almost as good as Nancy Sinatra version.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Kill Smartie Breedlove

Pulled the trigger on my new novel on Thursday. Huge THANK YOU to 18,000+ readers who welcomed Smartie to the world and made her debut the #1 mystery download on Kindle!

From the official flap copy:
A deliciously quirky whodunit by the bestselling author of SUGARLAND and THE HURRICANE LOVER…

Recently widowed private dick Shep Hartigate, a dishonored cop reduced to chasing cheating spouses for a ruthless Houston divorce lawyer, teams up with free-spirited pulp fiction writer Smartie Breedlove to find out who’s killing the inconvenient exes of Texas—including Smartie’s BFF, Charma Bovet, a centerfold with a heart of gold. Could Shep’s gorgeous but unscrupulous employer really have a secret bimbo/mimbo hit list? Or is Smartie Breedlove a few peeps shy of an Easter basket?

A colorful cast of problematic lovers, longsuffering family, and stalwart friends (both two-legged and four-legged) close ranks around Smartie and Shep as they sift clues and maneuver to stay alive. Calling on her longtime companions Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Daphne du Maurier, Smartie finds a roadmap to the hardboiled plot twists and U-turns drawing her perilously close to a damaging past that left her scarred and now threatens to destroy her.

NYT bestselling ghostwriter, author and indie publisher Joni Rodgers is known for creating characters that resonate, dialogue that crackles with wit, and plots that surprise. If you love a great mystery woven with skill, humor and compassion, KILL SMARTIE BREEDLOVE will not disappoint.

Kill Smartie Breedlove is just $3.99 on Kindle.

Boxer Rebellion"No Harm"

Friday, August 10, 2012

5 Quick Ways to Help Your Favorite Author

1. If you loved her last book, tell a friend. Or thirty. ♥

2. Loan out her book if you'd like, since it's a great way to win over new readers.

3. Or better yet, recommend it to your book club.

4. "Like" the author's books on Amazon.

5. If you enjoyed the book, please consider writing a review on Goodreads,, or other online venues.

As an author, I consider happy readers my most effective marketing allies. I love hearing from you and very much appreciate your plunking down your hard-earned entertainment dollars to purchase the stories I work so hard to bring you.

Thank you!


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